EDITORIAL: Richmond should be more of a race this election

The  year was 1991. The government was in disarray. The premier, a former cabinet minister turned radio talk show host, had resigned after four years of power which saw a divided caucus, scandals, and a huge drop in popularity for the governing Social Credit Party.

It was also the last time the provincial NDP had a hope of winning a riding in Richmond. While the upstart Liberals won all three ridings in the 1991 election, former NDP MLA Harold Steves lost by 610 votes to Allan Warnke in Richmond-Steveston. Steves, who was Richmond’s MLA from 1972 to 1975, likely would have won if not for a sudden Liberal surge after their leader, Gordon Wilson, floored the competition in a televised debate.

In the four elections since, Richmond has been a Liberal stronghold and the NDP hasn’t been close. In the last election, Richmond-Steveston Liberal MLA John Yap won with 61 per cent of the vote in 2009. The NDP only managed 27 per cent.

However, with the B.C. Liberals sagging in popularity under the weight of Premier Christy Clark’s desultory leadership, things could get a lot closer in Richmond this time round

There are many similarities to 1991. The party in power is deeply unpopular and racked by scandals, much of it thanks to the leadership of a former cabinet minister turned radio talk show host.

The botched foisting of the HST on the province was not popular in Richmond (though you can pin that one on Clark’s predecessor, Gordon Campbell). While British Columbians voted 54.73 per cent to quash the harmonized sales tax, in Richmond East, 65.58 per cent were against the HST, one of the highest rejection rates in the province. In Richmond Centre, 63.77 per cent were opposed to the HST while in Richmond-Steveston, 55.19 were against.

Many Richmond residents are concerned about a plan to barge jet fuel up the Fraser River to Riverport and then send it through a 15-km pipeline to Sea Island. While Richmond East Liberal MLA Linda Reid is firmly opposed to the plan, the provincial government has twice delayed making a decision on the proposal.

The ethnic votes scandal, where the Liberals clumsily plotted to use government resources to score cynical “quick wins” with the ethnic community, backfired for the Liberals and cost Richmond-Steveston MLA John Yap a seat in cabinet. Richmond’s diverse multicultural community was not impressed.

Election campaigns always have their own dynamic. Premier Christy Clark is a leader who could well snatch an electoral wipeout from the jaws of the defeat. In just over two years of power, about the only positive accomplishments voters are likely to remember are getting an extra day off work and a higher minimum wage. However, most remember the endless photo-ops, gaffes, the lack of policy and the absence of leadership.

Yap is getting some interesting competition. The NDP’s Scott Stewart is a life-long Richmond resident and retired police officer who has a diverse volunteering resume around town. He’s no stranger to campaigns, having helped Harold Steves get elected back in 1972.

The Conservatives have Carol Day, a former school trustee who has a community profile in leading the charge against the jet fuel proposal among other issues. The Conservatives, who had  a disastrous 2012 marred by infighting, find themselves with a well-known candidate. Both Stewart and Day will make hay about the jet fuel proposal.

In Richmond Centre, it’s the battle of non-Richmondite media personalities—Teresa Wat for the Liberals and Frank Yunrong Huang for the NDP. Gary Law, who was snubbed by the Liberals, will look to siphon off votes as an independent.

In Richmond East, Linda Reid, B.C.’s longest-serving MLA,  looks to get re-elected in a riding that has seen a lot of population changes in the past few years. Gian Sahota, who ran against Reid in 2005, carries the NDP banner.

In terms of past history and organization, the Liberals are still the favourites in Richmond. However, the NDP and now the Conservatives have responded with some strong candidates, which should make for a more entertaining race this time.

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